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House of Commons

Thursday 19 January 2012

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Farmers (Bureaucracy)

1. Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. [90493]

9. Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): What steps she is taking to reduce the regulatory burden of inspections on farmers. [90501]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): Before answering my hon. Friends’ questions, I believe that it is right to congratulate you on a certain anniversary, Mr Speaker, if I am correctly informed, so many happy returns of the day—it is always best to start on a good note.

In my written statement of 3 November I announced the publication of the interim response to the independent farm regulation task force and stated that the Government’s final response will be published early this year. That is still my intention.

Damian Hinds: I thank the Minister for that answer. What reassurance can he give farmers in East Hampshire that reform of the common agricultural policy will reduce rather than increase the administrative burden?

Mr Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that extremely important question. The only assurance I can give is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are working extremely hard not only in Brussels but in capitals across Europe, speaking with fellow Ministers to try to ensure that what appears to be a more complex and complicating set of proposals are altered to meet the objectives that my hon. Friend, his farmers and, I think, every farmer and farming Minister in Europe want to see.

Elizabeth Truss: Tomorrow I am holding a farming forum in Shouldham Thorpe. What can I tell local farmers about progress towards a single farm inspection regime that would save them time and the Government money?

Mr Paice: Although I cannot guarantee a single inspection regime, I am pleased to say that we are certainly moving towards a much simpler regime, as I hope my hon. Friend and the House will see shortly when I publish our response to the Macdonald report. We are using the concept of earned recognition, whereby we can trust farmers who have demonstrated their

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ability to comply with regulations and reduce the level of inspection on them, and in other cases we can merge inspection regimes so that one person does them for more than one agency.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The CAP regime involves a lot of heavy administration. I have asked the Minister about compliance issues before, but I think that the most pressing issue at the moment is whether single farm payments will continue to provide the kind of support that farmers in the least favoured areas, particularly those in the devolved Administrations, depend upon. What update can he give us on where the Government are heading with that?

Mr Paice: As the hon. Lady will appreciate, I cannot give any absolute answer because I fear that the negotiations will take another 18 months to reach a conclusion, but there is no doubt that the single farm payment or a form of direct payment, whatever it is called, will continue. I cannot tell her what the exact rates will be, because obviously we have not seen any budgets yet. She will be aware that the proposal we support is that all member states and regions should move towards an area-based system, which Scotland has not yet done, so it will face that challenge, as will all the devolved regions. I can assure her that we will do our very best to negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom to get the best deal for British farmers and the British taxpayer.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Mr Speaker, I join the Minister in saying to you: llongyfarchiadau.

With strong cross-party support, Labour introduced the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in response to wide public outrage at the deaths of Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe bay in 2004. It is an example of good regulation and enforcement, which only last year resulted in 12 high-profile operations and prosecutions and the identification of nearly 850 exploited workers, despite budget cuts. While the exploitation of workers continues, the need for the GLA is as great as ever. Will the Minister guarantee that the red tape challenge will not be used to water down the GLA’s powers and successes and that he will work with us to improve and strengthen it, including through more flexible fines and civil penalties? No one wants a return to the horrors of Morecambe bay or to see the sickening exploitation and trafficking of people by criminal gangs continue.

Mr Paice: I am sure the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman that we do not want a return to that. We are looking at the issue of civil penalties, which he has just described, and at fines. Nevertheless, there is some concern that the GLA has broadened its perspective way beyond the sectors that it was originally intended, rightly, to cover. It had all-party support and still does. I will not deny that we are looking at whether there are aspects of its activities that could be altered, but we will make those announcements as part of the response to Macdonald in a month’s time. The GLA’s core responsibility to protect vulnerable workers must be retained and will be.

Farming (Innovation)

2. George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): What plans she has to promote innovation in the farming industry. [R] [90494]

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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Innovation is essential to enhancing the competitiveness and resilience of UK agriculture, and we welcome the emphasis in the new common agricultural policy reform proposals on stimulating innovation. In March, in partnership with the Technology Strategy Board we are holding an innovation for growth summit with the agri-food sector. The summit will raise awareness of the potential for growth, and it includes a competition with £500,000 in prizes for small and medium-sized enterprises to develop their innovative ideas. As we speak, the invitations are going out.

George Freeman: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does she agree that, as we as a nation look for ways to develop a sustainable recovery and to support sustainable development throughout the world, British agriculture, science and technology have a key role to play as exports, not least through centres such as the Norwich research park in my own county of Norfolk? Does she also agree that we need somehow to create a web that links up our centres of excellence, currently fragmented throughout the UK, to create a portal for global industry to interact with our science?

Mrs Spelman: I completely agree, and I esteem highly the research capacity in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Government’s investment of £400 million per annum is co-ordinated throughout the Government, under the UK cross-Government food research and innovation strategy, which is published by the Government Office for Science. The cross-Government and research councils’ programme on global food security will also be a key vehicle for driving that agenda forward.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways to enhance competitiveness is to encourage the export of our product beyond the borders of the European Community? Will she outline to the House the Department’s policies, practices and strategy to encourage the export of our food product to Asia, Russia and China?

Mrs Spelman: When we took office, we made it a priority from the outset to encourage the food and farming industry to produce more food sustainably and to think in terms of opportunities in emerging markets. Later this month, we will publish in an export action plan the results of our work with the agri-food industry in the intervening months, but there is absolutely no doubt that the emerging markets of Brazil, China, India and Russia, many of which Ministers have now visited, offer our food and drink industry the huge potential to grow its business.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The UK is already a successful exporter of meat and meat products, and that is a fantastic way of increasing employment in farming and food processing. I have recently returned from Kazakhstan, where there is a huge and unmet demand for meat and meat products. What is DEFRA doing to ensure that all potential exporters are supported, and that we promote the quality of British meat throughout the world?

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Mrs Spelman: As I said in my previous answer, we have made that issue a priority since the very beginning. The important point is that the “Made in Britain” label on our food and drink sends to consumers throughout the world a very strong signal of high-quality food produced to very high standards of animal welfare, which our consumers expect and we promote, and of food safety, as the systems that we have built are very strong. Indeed, we should consider exporting not just our food but our systems to emerging economies.

Single Farm Payment

3. Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): What progress her Department has made on payments to farmers under the single farm payment scheme. [90495]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): In December, the Rural Payments Agency made the highest ever proportion of payments to English farmers under the single payment scheme, and it was achieved in the opening month of the scheme payment window. The latest figures, as of 18 January, show that a total of £1.5 billion had been paid to 95,702 farmers, and that demonstrates really good progress, but of course I remain committed to ensuring continued improvements in the service that farmers receive.

Mel Stride: I thank the Minister for that answer and do not underestimate the significant progress that he has made in sorting out the RPA, not least because of the shambles that he inherited from the previous Government. Will he categorically assure me, however, that future payment schemes will be kept as simple as possible, so that the significant difficulties that my local farmers in Devon face are not repeated in the years ahead?

Mr Paice: The assurance I can give my hon. Friend is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will do everything we can to ensure that future schemes are as simple as possible. As I intimated in answer to an earlier question, we are very concerned that many of the Commission’s proposals would actually make the situation more complicated rather than less so, but I assure him of our determination to improve on them.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that the average payout is about £13,000 a year and yet we are giving giant CAP subsidies to the richest in the land, such as up to €500,000 to Her Majesty and €800,000 to Tate & Lyle? As we are capping benefits for the poor, should we not cap these agricultural benefits for the very rich?

Mr Paice: I readily accept that capping has its attractions for those who want to level down the payments. One reason why this Government and the previous Government have opposed the principle of capping payments is that it would simply cause the fragmentation of farms as they break up to meet the new criteria. That would provide jobs for lawyers, but I am not sure t it would do any other good.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I agree that improvements have been made, but there is still significant work to do on communication with individual farmers. Will the Minister update the House on how much the RPA is costing the taxpayer in administering the payments?

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Mr Paice: I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer that he seeks off the top of my head, I am afraid. I can assure him that both I and the chief executive of the RPA, whom I will meet later today, are extremely determined to ensure that communication improves. We had a problem last year when farmers were told that they would be paid in X month but they were not. That was very bad news, and it is why that is not happening this year. I am determined to improve that situation, because whatever the state of a claim, farmers are entitled to know what that state is.

Littering and Fly-tipping

4. Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What steps she is taking to tackle littering and fly-tipping. [90496]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Changing behaviour is the key on such environmental issues. That is why the Government support the national fly-tipping prevention group and initiatives such as Keep Britain Tidy’s “Love Where You Live” campaign, which I launched with Kirstie Allsopp last autumn. We are cracking down on fly-tippers by introducing powers to seize the vehicles of suspected offenders and are working with the court authorities on increased sentencing.

Annette Brooke: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I congratulate all those involved in community litter picks, including those at Canford Heath in my constituency. Litter alongside the busy roads that link our communities is a blot on the landscape. What more will she do to empower local councils to take effective action against people in vehicles who are responsible for such littering?

Mrs Spelman: I freely acknowledge that that is a problem. When I jog around the lanes where I live in the countryside, it appals me to see what has been dropped casually out of car windows. It is systematically cleared by the council, but within a very short period it is back. This is about changing behaviour. We have to start in schools by educating children and taking them with us on litter picks, because it then dawns on them what a nuisance this is. In addition, an interesting opportunity is presented by a private Bill that is going through Parliament, which will enable London borough councils to tackle the problem of littering from vehicles by making it a civil offence. We should look at the efficacy of that measure to see what wider lessons we can learn.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): The Secretary of State has mentioned her support for Keep Britain Tidy, yet her Department has cut its grant to that organisation, causing it to lose 50% of its staff. What impact does she believe that will have on littering campaigns?

Mrs Spelman: Such questions from the Opposition always skirt the reality that we are dealing with a deficit we inherited from the previous Government. As shadow Ministers have said, they would have to make cuts too. This is not easy. As I said at the outset, I applaud Keep Britain Tidy’s initiatives. The point is that we need to tackle this together. This is a classic area where the big society can make a difference. I have put my money

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where my mouth is by helping to launch the “Love Where You Live” campaign. I suggest to hon. Members that that is a campaign we can all get involved in.

Rural Tourism

5. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What assessment she has made of the benefits to rural areas of rural tourism; and what support she is providing to rural communities to help them secure such benefits. [90497]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): The rural economy growth review concluded that tourism was a significant contributor to the rural economy and that it had the potential for further growth. The Government have therefore announced a £25 million initiative to promote rural tourism and support rural tourism businesses. That includes establishing a new £10 million fund for the rural development programme for England to provide funding for the development and improvement of tourism destinations, facilities and products.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure he would agree that unnecessary and inappropriate regulations that impede the development of rural tourism should not be introduced. Will he therefore confirm that his Department no longer plans to classify waste from self-catering properties as commercial rather than domestic?

Richard Benyon: I agree that inappropriate regulations should not hinder rural tourism, including self-catering accommodation. However, we also have to face the fact that many councils in areas where there is a thriving tourism industry face huge bills in dealing with the waste that it produces. Given the principle that the producer pays, the Department is considering how to get the balance right. I reassure my hon. Friend that self-catering accommodation is one area that DEFRA is considering as an exception. We will weigh up the matter and make an announcement shortly.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): The coalition Government often pick fault with the Welsh Government. May I inform the Minister that the Wales coastal path, a continual path around the whole coast of Wales, is due to be officially launched in May? It will promote rural tourism and has already been flagged up by The New York Times as one of the top places to go in 2012. Why is England’s coastal path being left behind?

Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman will be very glad to know that I will be going down to Dorset in the next few days to launch the first section of the coastal path, which will be along the Olympic site. We are also working on, I believe, five other sites. The legislation is extremely complex. I would like it to be much more simple, and I am examining ways of making it simpler so that we can speed things up and ensure that the benefits for tourism, health and people’s ability to enjoy our wonderful coast will be apparent sooner rather than later.

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Jobs and Growth

7. Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): What steps she is taking to promote jobs and growth in the food production and environmental industries. [90499]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): In the rural strand of the growth review that we published alongside the autumn statement, we announced an export action plan which, as I indicated earlier, will be out later this month, and an innovation summit to support the agri-food industry. We also announced a new £15 million loan fund for community renewables, a £15 million fund for rural growth networks and support for mid-sized businesses to access £6 billion a year of savings available from resource efficiency.

Mr Harris: I think the whole House has a perfect right to know what I had for breakfast this morning. I started with sausages, bacon and egg—only one, of course, because I am on a health kick. In tucking in, I was reassured by the fact that 90% of all the food purchased by the House is sourced in the United Kingdom, encouraging British growth and British jobs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House not what she had for breakfast—too much information already—but what proportion of food purchased by her own Department is sourced in the United Kingdom?

Mrs Spelman: I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that World Trade Organisation rules mean that we can require purchasing to British standards in Government procurement, but we cannot require produce to be British. We adhere to those rules, and we actively promote Government buying standards involving all Departments sourcing food that is produced to British standards in order to promote those standards. In my own Department, the figure is 18%.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Many people are employed in rural areas, particularly the uplands, in livestock production. Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the conflicting messages from her Department and the Department of Health about the eating of meat, which could potentially have very damaging consequences for jobs and growth in rural areas?

Mrs Spelman: Clearly nutrition is a lead for the Department of Health, but it is quite clear that meat forms part of a balanced diet. I am very proud of the fact that producers in this country produce meat to the highest standards of animal welfare, food and hygiene anywhere in the world. As we have just discussed, we actively promote the consumption of food that is produced to those very high standards within Government and among the wider public.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Labour believes that public procurement should be reformed to play its part in our economic recovery and to support jobs, skills and apprenticeships here in the UK. The Government spend £2 billion a year on food and are well placed to support British farmers and food businesses by buying British. I heard what the Secretary of State said and was unclear about the percentage that is sourced from UK producers,

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but her latest figures show that the Department bought less than a third of its food from UK producers in 2011. Why is that, and what does she intend to do about it?

Mrs Spelman: As we have discussed, the situation has not changed since the hon. Lady’s party was in office. The difference is that the Government have placed a requirement on all Departments to procure food to British standards. As a shadow Secretary of State, she cannot encourage the Government of the day to breach WTO rules by calling for British products. That is the distinction. We want to encourage the industry to produce more food to the high standards that we require and to encourage Government Departments and the wider public to consume food that is produced to that very high standard.

Mary Creagh: The Secretary of State is confused. DEFRA Ministers are simply failing to deliver jobs and growth in the UK food industry, which is the country’s largest manufacturing sector. We have seen how unfair competition from abroad for egg producers has been allowed—DEFRA is supine. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), the shadow food Minister, has asked many questions, yet No. 10 has not revealed how much of its food is sourced from the UK. There is confusion across Government: some Departments reply on what British produce they bought, and some reply on food that is sourced to UK standards. Will she have a word and ensure that the next time guests sit down for dinner with the Prime Minister, the food they enjoy is 100% UK-sourced and that it supports jobs in this country?

Mrs Spelman: There is no confusion at all here. Government buying standards are mandatory across all Departments. They require food to be procured to British standards. That is compatible not only with WTO rules but with the rules that cover the operation of the EU internal market—the very basic framework that any Secretary of State or shadow Secretary of State should understand.

The hon. Lady also completely overlooks the importance of our drive on exports. I remind her that in the last year alone, there has been an 11.4% increase in food and drink exports from this country to the wider world.

Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, but questions and answers are, frankly, too long. I am sure we will have a short—that is, single sentence—question from the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George).

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I shall do my best, Mr Speaker.

If British farmers are to compete on the world market, support systems must not simply allow British farmers to avoid creating the ranch-and-prairie environmental deserts that we clearly do not want. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believe that the common agricultural policy reforms are currently moving things in the right direction?

Mrs Spelman: Within the CAP proposals, there is an endeavour to balance the need to promote animal welfare and protection of the environment in parallel with

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producing food sustainably, but the important thing in concluding trade deals with non-EU countries—2012 ought to the be the year of UK trade deals as emerging markets offer great potential to our industry—is to have the higher standards to which British food is produced recognised in the wider world and at global level.


8. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What steps her Department has taken to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill. [90500]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Following the waste review, DEFRA has already implemented the responsibility deal on direct mail; consultation on higher packaging recycling targets; funding to local authorities to deliver waste treatment infrastructure; and a new reward and recognition scheme on recycling. We will consult this year on introducing restriction on the landfilling of wood waste. The landfill tax is a key driver in diverting waste from landfill, and it will increase to £80 a tonne in 2014-15.

Rehman Chishti: More than 6.7 million tonnes of food waste are discarded each year. Environmental waste management providers anticipate that food waste is likely to be banned completely from landfill soon. Will the Minister clarify whether and when that ban is likely to take place?

Richard Benyon: The Government are determined that no food waste should go to landfill. Recent figures show a 13% reduction in annual UK household food waste since 2006. That is welcome, but we are undertaking a number of actions to divert food from landfill, including a voluntary agreement with the hospitality and food sector, which will be launched in the spring, and our anaerobic digestion loan, the first of which—an £800,000 loan to an AD plant in Wiltshire—has just gone ahead.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is the Minister aware of the close correlation between high recycling rates, low landfill use and local authorities operating alternate weekly collections? Is he also aware that a recent survey by the Western Morning News showed that not a single local authority in the south-west is going to accept the cash bung from the Communities Secretary to reintroduce weekly non-recyclable collections? Will he tell the Communities Secretary that that money could be much better spent?

Richard Benyon: The right hon. Gentleman knows something that nobody else does, because no announcement has been made on which local authorities are accessing the scheme. I can assure him that it is a matter for local authorities; it is for them to discuss with their local electorate how they manage their waste policies, and it is for them to access the scheme, if they wish.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Does the Minister share my concern that Cumbria county council is planning to close household waste recycling centres in Ambleside and Grange-over-Sands, given that that will increase the amount of waste that goes to landfill?

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Richard Benyon: I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. I do not know the circumstances in Cumbria, but I hope that other methods are being put in train by the county council to ensure that the drive for increased recycling continues and to compensate.


10. John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions she has had with the chair of the independent forestry panel on its interim report. [90502]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The chair of the Independent Panel on Forestry informed the Secretary of State and me on 28 November last year of the content of the panel’s progress report.

John Woodcock: But does the Minister accept the central recommendation from the interim report that the public forest estate should remain in public hands? What reassurance can he give the people of my constituency and the many thousands of others who enjoy nearby Grizedale forest that he has learned the lesson from the forest fiasco that marred the early months of this Administration?

Mr Paice: As I just said, this was a progress report. We await the final report some time later this spring. It is a report by the panel, and we will have to consider the panel’s conclusions when we get the final report later this year. I cannot comment on detail on an interim report.

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): What discussions has the Minister had with the devolved Administrations about the future of Forest Research?

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on an important point. As he knows, the Welsh Government have decided to take forestry into the remit of their own organisation. The Scottish Government are looking at the possibility of doing the same thing. That has implications for Forest Research and, indeed, for certain other Forestry Commission activities. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer, because we are still in negotiations, but we will ensure that any devolved Administration who take on a forestry role make sure that any costs on the English commission are properly funded.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The Government were deeply misguided in viewing our woodlands as assets for stripping, and the public told them so. Can the Minister assure the House that this lesson has been learned, by reassuring us that the Secretary of State will not dispose of the 15% of the public forest estate she was hoping to get rid of without legislation before she had to abandon the rest of her disastrous plans?

Mr Paice: The hon. Lady, as always, gets a bit hysterical. In fact, there never was any intention to dispose of the whole public forest estate. Nevertheless, as we have repeatedly said, all sales, of any scale, are suspended

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until we get the final report. When we get the final report, we will then consider future policy, and not until.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): Many happy returns, Mr Speaker.

I hope we can have a more reasoned and possibly less sexist response this time. The independent panel’s report tells us of the value of the public forest estate in terms of the environment, the rural economy and public access. The Bishop of Liverpool told the Secretary of State that she had “greatly undervalued” our forests and that they should not be sold off, but expanded. Does the Secretary of State agree with the bishop? Will she complete the final curve of the U-turn and call off the sell-off of 15% of the estate? Yes or no?

Mr Paice: All sales are called off until we get the final report. Then we will wait—

Fiona O'Donnell: Suspended.

Mr Paice: Suspended, called off—I do not mind which word the hon. Lady uses: no sales will take place until the final report is in hand and the Government have digested it and decided on a way forward.

Groceries Code Adjudicator

11. Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the effect on farmers of the legislative proposals in the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. [90503]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The Secretary of State has regular discussions with her opposite number in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on a range of issues, including on the establishment of a groceries code adjudicator.

Mr Reid: I am pleased that the Government are introducing the Bill. The groceries code adjudicator will be able to investigate abuses of the market by the big supermarkets. Preventing such abuse is very important to give farmers, particularly dairy farmers, a fair price for their produce. Will the Minister speak to the Government’s business managers and urge them to introduce the Bill as soon as possible?

Mr Paice: I am certain that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has heard my hon. Friend’s words. I assure him that I entirely agree with him.

Business Support (Rural Communities)

12. Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): What support she is providing to rural communities to encourage enterprise and growth. [90504]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): DEFRA is working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that measures designed to support business and the economy have a proportionate

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and positive impact in rural areas. On 29 November last year, the Government announced a strong package of new measures designed to stimulate sustainable growth in the rural economy and to help rural businesses to reach their full potential.

Neil Parish: Devon and Somerset are making a bid for £15 million of rural growth network funds. Tourism, farming and business can all come together, along with infrastructure, but it needs to be co-ordinated. I support their bid and would like the Government to consider it sympathetically.

Richard Benyon: I am aware that the local enterprise partnership has made a strong bid, but it is one of many—we are excited by the response—and I cannot say at this stage whether I prefer one over another. Nevertheless, I wish them the best of luck in the transparent process of being accepted as one of the pilot schemes.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Minister will be aware of the importance of the food industry to the rural economy. We heard previously that the Government are doing nothing on procurement to support the industry. What impact does he think that the cuts to the annual investment allowance will have on those businesses and their difficulties investing in new equipment to drive forward the food industry in this country?

Richard Benyon: Support for the food and drink industry was very much part of the process of the rural growth review, because the industry is a big employer in rural areas. Also, the tourism package that we are implementing will permit further input for local food initiatives. That comes alongside cross-Government plans to reduce regulation and improve the framework for businesses in the food sector. The industry has a real friend in this Government.

Topical Questions

T1. [90513] Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My Department takes responsibility for safeguarding the environment, supporting farmers and strengthening the green economy. Essential to each of those is water supply. In that context, my Ministers and I will focus extensively on water resources over the coming year, seeking to avoid unnecessary supply restrictions. Last month, I issued a drought order to South East Water to protect supplies to customers in Sussex. Next month, we shall hold the next in a series of drought summits, and thereafter the Environment Agency will update the drought prospects report. With luck, holding a drought summit tends to bring on the rain. I saw that it rained this morning; we need a lot more of that.

Gavin Barwell: Three months ago, my local authority, Croydon, introduced a food waste recycling service, which is on course to divert nearly 12,000 tonnes of household waste from landfill. Will the Secretary

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of State congratulate Croydon on its work, and will she tell us what the Government can do further to develop the market for other recyclables?

Mrs Spelman: I congratulate Croydon council on that new development. We certainly see the opportunity for local authorities up and down the land to introduce a waste food collection scheme that feeds into anaerobic digestion and, in turn, produces a renewable source of energy. Croydon council predicts that it will help the borough to increase its recycling rate from 32% to 46%, which, therefore, has the full support of the Government.

T2. [90514] Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): In November 2010, I was one of the 5,000 people attacked by a dog since the consultation on dangerous dogs closed in June 2010. For fear of being called to order by you, Mr Speaker, I will not raise my middle finger to the Minister to show him the 1-inch scar left following the attack, but will he bring forward the proposals on dangerous dogs before the February recess?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): We are close to finalising a package of measures to tackle irresponsible dog owners—I am very sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman has been the victim of such an attack—and we will be announcing those measures soon. In putting the package together, we have considered the benefits of compulsory microchipping of dogs and extending the current law to cover private property, so that the police can deal more effectively with out-of-control dogs on private property. The final package will cover future Government handling of such issues, as well as other plans to improve standards of dog ownership.

T3. [90515] Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Bearing in mind the years of chaos and the continued uncertainty about the future development of the Port of Southampton, can the Minister tell me what conversations have taken place with the ports Minister about how the Marine Management Organisation operates?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I have had conversations with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), about this. The consultation ends on 22 February. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a real drive among Ministers, and also in the MMO, to see an early resolution to the matter following the end of the consultation.

T5. [90519] Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Following the Government’s admission that the UK remains in breach of EU pollution legislation, can the Secretary of State tell campaigners such as the Breathe Clean Air Group in my constituency what steps she is taking to address concerns about the impact of biomass emissions on air quality?

Mrs Spelman: We have worked hard with the Commission on air quality. We have brought a number of suggestions to the Commission about how we might help to improve air quality, particularly in urban areas, working closely with the Mayor of London, and also

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with other cities and their local authorities. The question of biomass emissions is part of that, but with technology advancing, it is possible to have a closed loop fermentation process, thereby minimising the impact of any emissions into the atmosphere.

T4. [90516] Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What is DEFRA doing to ensure that the British horticultural industry is not disadvantaged by the Rural Payments Agency suspending 17 producer organisations from the European fresh fruit and vegetable scheme?

Mr Paice: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The European auditors decided a couple of years ago that we were not complying with the scheme, so unfortunately those 17 organisations have been suspended. I can tell him that the RPA is working closely with them to find ways to alter their operations so that they meet the criteria and can re-enter the scheme as soon as possible.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Would the Minister responsible for fisheries be prepared to meet the Yorkshire wildlife trust and other wildlife trusts to discuss the pace at which the Government are moving towards designating marine conservation zones?

Richard Benyon: I have meetings with the Yorkshire wildlife trust—I am a great fan—and would be happy to meet it again. The chairman of the Yorkshire wildlife trust is Professor Lawton, who has talked to me about that and other matters. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are moving ahead as fast as we can. We have a cumbersome process, which we inherited, but I can assure him that we will be able to designate in accordance with the statement I issued before Christmas.

T6. [90520] Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend shares my view that canals and waterways are a great asset to Britain. In my constituency, we have the Stoke Bruerne canal museum and the Grand Union canal, with all the tourism and leisure activities that that brings. Can he update the House on progress towards creating a charity out of British Waterways and tell us what he thinks that will do to improve British tourism?

Richard Benyon: The museums have been a crucial part of the consultation up to this point. The negotiations with the trustees are at a final stage. They are going well, and I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly. I believe that the new charity will have a huge impact on the use of canals and on facilities such as the museums.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State held a number of round-tables in October with civil society organisations and business about the run-up to the Rio+20 conference next year. Can she tell us what specific measures she is taking to encourage those organisations to get involved in preparing the UK position at that conference—and may I ask her, with respect, to give us some specific measures, not a reference to “ongoing engagement” or something of that nature?

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Mrs Spelman: I did indeed come straight back from a ministerial preparatory conference in Delhi, step off the plane and brief two large groups—the business community and the NGO community—at round-tables, the reason being that the Brazilian hosts intend in the days preceding the ministerial segment for business and for civil society to have a specific convention on sustainable development 20 years on from the original summit. We are seeing some early proposals from the Colombians on sustainable goals. In the run-up to Rio, we should reconvene the round-tables when there is something a bit more specific on the table, and work closely with both groups, the important thing being to get a good UK attendance.

T7. [90521] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The Food Standards Agency recently announced proposals for changes to the meat hygiene charging system, and I would be grateful to hear my hon. Friend’s views on them.

Mr Paice: As my hon. Friend says, the Food Standards Agency has produced proposals that would lead to full cost recovery, a principle with which the Government agree. However, the magnitude of the increases for some abattoirs is extreme, and we are looking at that matter with concern because we clearly do not want abattoirs to be driven out of business.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Further to the question from the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), is the Minister aware that, in Westminster Hall yesterday, the shipping Minister described the five years of delays in Southampton’s port investment as a “cock-up” by the Marine Management Organisation and its predecessors? In the light of that, can he assure us that the MMO will have all the resources and expertise that it needs to deal with the application in a timely manner when the consultation ends?

Richard Benyon: I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. This has been a complex process, because that action was brought by another company. We want to ensure that the matter is resolved as quickly as possible, and I can assure him and other Members that Ministers in both Departments will work with the MMO to find an early resolution to it.

T8. [90522] George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister share my concern at the recent decision by the Food Standards Agency to turn down a licence application by Cranswick Country Foods to export to China? The matter was also raised last week at Prime Minister’s questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). Will the Minister give us some advice on how to bring pressure to bear on the FSA?

Mr Paice: I have already agreed to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), and if my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) wishes to attend that meeting, he will be extremely welcome. I cannot go into details now, but I must make the point that the role of the FSA is to ascertain whether the abattoirs meet the standards laid down by the Chinese; it is effectively acting as an agent for the Chinese Government in this instance.

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Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Minister will know that there is widespread opposition in the south-west to badger culls in our local communities, not least because the scientific evidence shows that such culls are completely ineffective in curbing bovine tuberculosis. Now that the two pilot areas have been announced, what steps will the Minister be taking to consult local people?

Mr Paice: The answer to that question is in the written statement, but let me repeat what the Government have announced this morning. There are two areas in which the farmers will be invited to apply for a licence. The process from here on is in the hands of Natural England, and it includes a consultation with local people to ascertain their views. That will happen before Natural England decides whether to grant licences to those groups.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Metal Theft

1. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What recent estimate the Church Commissioners have made on the cost of metal theft from Church of England property. [90483]

6. Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What estimate the Church Commissioners have made of the number of churches from which lead has been stolen in the last 12 months. [90488]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): Ecclesiastical, the insurance company that insures the vast majority of churches, reports that last year alone more than 2,500 churches suffered thefts of lead, and that the cost of the resulting claims was about £4.6 million. Each of those claims represents a loss to a local community and a distraction to parishes from using their resources for local community life.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his response. I know that Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the theft of metal from churches and from war memorials, and we hope that legislation or regulation will be introduced fairly quickly to deal with the problem. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that Ecclesiastical has placed a cap of £5,000 on claims against thefts of metal from churches? If that is correct, what is he doing about it?

Tony Baldry: Ecclesiastical is a private insurance company; it has nothing to do with the Church Commissioners. It has to make commercial decisions about the cover that it can provide to churches, and it has clearly taken the view that churches that have had lead stolen from them present a higher risk in regard to actuarial cover. That is all the more reason for us to find a resolution to the problem of metal theft as soon as possible.

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Mr Gray: My hon. Friend may recall that last time we met I raised with him the issue of metal theft from war memorials that happened to be on church property. Since then, I have had meetings with people at the Imperial War museum, who told me that, of the estimated 100,000 war memorials in England today, only 60,000 are recorded. Will my hon. Friend enter into discussions with the Imperial War museum—perhaps in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund—to find not only funding but volunteers, so that we can complete the registration of all 100,000 war memorials?

Tony Baldry: As we come to the anniversary of the first world war from 2014 to 2018, I am sure that there will be considerable interest in war memorials. In my constituency and elsewhere, parishioners are writing books recording the history of those who took part, and I am sure that the Church would want to co-operate constructively with the Imperial War museum, the War Memorials Trust and any other organisation that sought to ensure that we protect war memorials. The theft of lead from war memorials is a particularly despicable crime.

Mr Speaker: I call Dr Thérèse Coffey. Not here.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission , was asked—

Income and Expenditure

3. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What the (a) income and (b) expenditure was of the Electoral Commission in the last year. [90485]

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): The Electoral Commission’s audited report and accounts for the last financial year showed a net operating expenditure of £21.6 million and capital expenditure of £1.6 million. All expenditure was financed by income from the Consolidated Fund. The commission also received income of £148,000 from political parties, arising from registration fees and penalties for failure to comply with the rules on party and election finance.

Mr Bone: I am grateful for that reply in which we heard that £21 million is being spent. Does the Electoral Commission really need seven executives earning at a rate of more than £90,000 a year? Should there not be some cutbacks there?

Mr Streeter: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Electoral Commission will be reducing its core costs by 30% between now and 2014-15. The Speaker’s Committee takes this issue extremely seriously, and it is delighted that the Electoral Commission has come forward with a number of cost-saving measures. It is determined to deliver them and it will deliver them.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): In light of the recent Electoral Commission report on registration, which showed a much larger number of unregistered

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people throughout the country, what consideration is being given to strengthening the Electoral Commission’s role to ensure that that does not deteriorate in future years?

Mr Streeter: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. As he knows, the primary responsibility for electoral registration rests with electoral registration officers. The Electoral Commission has made a number of representations to the Government for enhanced powers to intervene and direct where electoral registration officers are not coming up to the standards that we believe are appropriate in a locality.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Christian Communities (Nigeria)

4. Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What plans the Church Commissioners have to provide support for Christian communities in Nigeria. [90486]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): Lambeth palace is in regular contact with the Anglican Church in Nigeria. Following a meeting with the Primate of Nigeria last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has continued to be closely in touch with him about the ongoing situation in the region. The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, is currently visiting Nigeria on behalf of the archbishop. The Church of England supports the work of the Anglican communion in working with the Church of Nigeria to end the murder and violence. It is putting its efforts into supporting movements for peace and reconciliation within the northern and central belt communities of Nigeria.

Mr Nuttall: As my hon. Friend will be aware, attacks on Christians in Nigeria have greatly increased in recent weeks, largely due, it seems, to the activities of the Boko Haram group. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning those attacks and urge the Church Commissioners, after considering the findings of the Lord Bishop of Durham, to take whatever action is necessary to bring such attacks to an end?

Tony Baldry: I think everyone in the House would agree that to murder people simply for their religion or simply because they are Christians is totally barbaric, taking us back through the centuries. I very much hope that the Government of Nigeria will do everything they can to prevent the continuing murder of Christians. It is particularly disturbing that the person accused of bombing St Theresa’s church just outside Abuja was found hiding in the home of a local state governor.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I am keen to maximise the number of contributors.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I think this is the third month in a row in which the hon. Gentleman has had to answer questions relating to persecution or discrimination against Christians. Does he agree that the issue of persecution of Christians—or,

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indeed, of those of any faith—must now be taken much more seriously by international agencies, by this Government and by other bodies that can play a role?

Tony Baldry: I entirely agree.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My borough contains the largest African community in Britain. Will the hon. Gentleman consider whether the Church Commissioners might communicate better to Christian Africans in Britain what is being done by the Church in Nigeria and, indeed, in Zimbabwe, which is the subject of the next question? Will he also contemplate sending a small group of Church representatives who are from Nigeria and Zimbabwe to those countries, where they may be able to build a bridge?

Tony Baldry: The right hon. Gentleman has made two very good suggestions, which I will discuss with those responsible at Lambeth palace.

Christians (Zimbabwe)

5. Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to support and monitor the treatment of Christians in Zimbabwe. [90487]

Tony Baldry: Following a visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the region, where he and other bishops from southern Africa presented President Mugabe with a dossier of the abuses suffered by the Anglican community over recent years, the Church is very concerned about the increase in hostilities towards Anglicans in Zimbabwe in the past few months. Most recently, on 2 January, local security forces forcibly evicted 80 clergy who had assembled peacefully for an annual retreat.

Martin Vickers: The attacks on the Christian community should be roundly condemned. The Christian community in Zimbabwe will have valued and felt greatly strengthened by the archbishop’s recent visit, but, as the Bishop of Harare observed recently, the persecution continues. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Church Commissioners, in co-operation with the Government, will continue and, indeed, increase the pressure?

Tony Baldry: I can certainly give that assurance. I think it particularly despicable that it is now necessary to obtain police permission to gather for prayer in Zimbabwe: that is exceptionally sad. We will continue to co-operate with whoever can help us to exert pressure to ensure that Christians in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world are free to worship as they wish.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission , was asked—

Voter Registration

7. Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): What steps the Electoral Commission plans to take on voter registration in areas where it is low. [90489]

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Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): The Electoral Commission’s research has identified some categories of people who are less likely to be registered, including those in private rented accommodation, those who have recently moved house, those aged 18 to 35, and certain minority ethnic groups. The commission directs its public awareness activities towards those groups. However, it encourages not just electoral registration officers but all colleagues who take a close interest in the matter to do all that they can to deal with the issue of low voter registration.

Mr Buckland: We in Swindon are lucky enough to have dedicated electoral registration officers, but performance across the country is patchy. We have been hearing of the possibility of enhanced powers for the Electoral Commission. How quickly can those powers be awarded in order to ensure that we obtain the highest possible level of electoral registration throughout the country?

Mr Streeter: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. As he says, the performance of electoral registration officers around the country can be patchy. The Electoral Commission works with EROs up and down the land to try to improve their performance, but the process would be enhanced if the Government gave the commission additional powers. When that will happen lies in the hands of the Government, but I am sure that Ministers have listened carefully to this exchange of views.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


9. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Ministers on the Government's forthcoming consultation on marriage. [90491]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): There have already been discussions between Church representatives and Government Ministers on this subject, and more are in prospect. It will come as no surprise to the House that the Church of England holds firmly to the view that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

Andrew Selous: What reassurance can my hon. Friend give churches in my constituency, which have contacted me about their fear that they may be prosecuted for discrimination if they persist with traditional marriage?

Tony Baldry: The Government have given an assurance that that is not the case. The law states plainly that individual denominations may make perfectly clear that they can continue to ensure that marriage is celebrated between a man and a woman, and the Church of England will continue to do so.

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10. Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): How much funding the Church Commissioners have made available to cathedrals in the last year. [90492]

Tony Baldry: Next year the Church Commissioners will give Truro cathedral some £348,000 towards the operation and running of the dean and chapter, a 4% increase. The cathedrals building division will of course continue to look sympathetically on any specific request from Truro for support relating to the fabric of the cathedral.

Sarah Newton: I are grateful for that response to the discussions that we have been having. Truro cathedral plays a vital role in the city, not only through its ministry but through its contribution to quality of life and the local economy. I welcome the support that the Church Commissioners are giving to the cathedral, and I hope that they will continue to look favourably on the work that it is doing in its Aspire project.

Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Nowhere else in England are the early Celtic roots of Christianity so obvious as in Cornwall, with its profusion

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of local saints. Truro has the distinction of being the first entirely new cathedral foundation since the Reformation. Like other cathedrals, it plays an important part in the life of the local community and the county, and the Church Commissioners will continue to give the cathedral of Truro every possible support.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman will know that other cathedrals have also suffered from metal theft in recent days; there were reports in the newspapers this week of Manchester cathedral being hit. Given the impact of metal theft and further to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier answer, will he tell us how many churches and cathedrals have applied for support from the listed places of worship grant scheme and whether the scheme is sufficient to meet demand?

Tony Baldry: There will always be considerable pressure on the listed places of worship grant scheme. Let us be clear that there is no way that the Church of England or any other Church can cope with the present level of theft of lead from churches and cathedrals. I hope that the Government will introduce measures to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 as soon as possible to stop that continuing violation of our national heritage.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 23 January—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on rising food prices and food poverty followed by a debate on youth unemployment and taxation of bank bonuses. These debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 24 January—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 25 January—European document relating to EU criminal policy. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 26 January—General debate on progress on defence reform and the strategic defence and security review. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 30 January will include:

Monday 30 January—Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Tuesday 31 January—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill (day 3).

Wednesday 1 February—Consideration of Lords Amendments.

Thursday 2 February—General debate. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 2 February will be:

Thursday 2 February—Debate on Network Rail.

This year marks the happy occasion of the Queen’s diamond jubilee and I am today able to announce that an early celebration of that magnificent anniversary will be the attendance of the two Houses on Her Majesty in Westminster Hall for the presentation of Humble Addresses on the morning of Tuesday 20 March. On a day before then, which will be announced in a forthcoming business statement, there will be a debate on the motion

“That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.”

I hope the House joins me in looking forward to an important and happy event. On that theme, Mr Speaker, although the score is somewhat lower, may I wish you many happy returns of the day?

Ms Eagle: We all look forward to being able to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee, a remarkable achievement and a very happy reign.

Yesterday’s unemployment figures were desperate. There are now almost 2.7 million people without a job in this country, a 17-year high. This week, two independent reports predicted that the worst is still to come. One said unemployment would increase to a staggering 3 million,

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the other that it would not fall for four more years, yet all we get from the Government is talk and no action.

On Tuesday, the Economic Secretary actually boasted that the cost of living was coming down. Over the past year, unemployment has gone up by 17% in her constituency, so does the Leader of the House agree she is now a leading contestant to be this week’s most out-of-touch Minister? The Economic Secretary’s boss, the Chancellor, had to fly halfway around the world to Hong Kong before he felt he had sufficient distance between himself and his Back Benchers to announce that the Government would be willing to increase International Monetary Fund funding. While I understand why he might have wanted to make such an announcement 6,000 miles away, would it not have been better if he had made a statement to this House?

On 6 December, the House voted overwhelmingly to continue a debate on the economy in Government time. Given that the parliamentary managers are yet again struggling to fill the Commons timetable as a consequence of their gross mishandling of their legislative agenda, will the Leader of the House now bow to the clearly expressed view of this House by letting the Chancellor know that it is safe to come home and by finding time for a debate on the Government’s mishandling of the economy?

Will the Leader of the House assure me that if we finally get an announcement on tackling executive pay, the Business Secretary will make it to this House first? It is unacceptable that he appears to have lined up a speech to a think-tank next week to make this announcement. He should make a statement to this House and then give a speech to a think-tank, not the other way around. With bankers set to award themselves massive bonuses while millions of hard-pressed families are struggling to make ends meet, we need Government action now, not promises of action at some point in the future or lectures to think-tanks.

Up to 100,000 people died during the famine in the horn of Africa last year. The House will have seen the report that found that this tragedy could have been averted if the international community had responded faster. There is now a growing food crisis in the west of Africa. Will the International Development Secretary make a statement to reassure the House that mistakes made in the horn of Africa last year are not being repeated in the west of Africa this year?

This week, the Government announced a commission into the so-called West Lothian question. Rather than following the cross-party approach we took when setting up the Calman commission and the current Welsh Secretary took when establishing the Silk inquiry—both of which were on devolution matters—the Government have, outrageously, chosen to proceed without any input at all from opposition parties. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that this is yet again constitutional tinkering to secure partisan electoral advantage. Will the Leader of the House explain why cross-party agreement was not even sought?

Tomorrow there is legislation before this House—not Government legislation, needless to say—to clamp down on metal theft. Will the Government confirm that they will now support this important piece of legislation, given the growing problem, as highlighted in Question Time?

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We learned from yesterday’s Telegraph that the Government are to launch a consultation on building a new airport in the south-east. Had the Transport Secretary announced it last week when she was before this House, Members would have had the opportunity to question her. According to media reports, a Conservative source said there were timetabling problems because “at the last minute” the Deputy Prime Minister “stepped in to block” that. Coalition infighting may explain the discourtesy to this House, but it does not excuse it. Will the Leader of the House tell us how much this consultation will cost?

I am sure the Education Secretary deeply regrets the fact that coalition tensions mean his confidential Cabinet correspondence has been leaked to the media. Will the Leader of the House confirm that a leak inquiry has been set up? Is not the leaking of Cabinet correspondence the latest sign of growing coalition disarray? The Liberal Democrat leader now spends his time doing interviews claiming credit for allegedly blocking Conservative proposals. In turn, an ally of the Prime Minister is quoted in the Telegraph saying of the Deputy Prime Minister:

“No one has noticed, but there isn’t much about him that is British.”

What sort of Government do we have when the announcement of important infrastructure proposals is delayed by coalition infighting, and when the Transport Secretary then announces that policy—in the media—the Deputy Prime Minister briefs the media that he is going to veto it anyway? This is a complete and utter mess.

We learned from Now magazine that the Prime Minister and his wife have a “date night” each week. Given coalition tensions, perhaps Conservative Cabinet Ministers should have date nights with their Liberal Democrat colleagues. May I suggest that the Education Secretary might want to go on a date with the Energy Secretary to discuss the leaking of Government correspondence? I can understand that no Minister would want to ruin their evening by spending it with the Deputy Prime Minister, but perhaps someone could take out the Business Secretary to remind him that since joining the Government he has abandoned everything he said on the economy when in opposition.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I am reluctant to draw attention to your birthday in case the Prime Minister now starts poking fun at you because of your age, but happy birthday—I hope you have a good one.

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity to debate unemployment on Monday, as I note that the Opposition have allocated half a day to it. I just make the point that youth unemployment increased by 40% when world trading conditions were benign and, obviously, it is a challenge for any Government, particularly one tackling a huge deficit, to deal with youth unemployment when world conditions are less benign than they were, but the Government will be happy to set out on Monday the steps that we are taking—the youth contract, the Work programme, and the initiatives on apprenticeships and work experience, among others—to bring down youth unemployment.

This country is a good supporter of the IMF, and there are no firm proposals from the IMF at the moment to increase contributions. Our position has not changed: we have been prepared to provide resources in the past

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and we would be willing provide them in the future if a strong case is made, but we have made it absolutely clear that the IMF cannot lend money to support a currency and, of course, we would have to come back to Parliament if the request took the Government over the limit that has been voted on.

On legislation, and returning to what the shadow Leader of the House has said in past weeks, I hope she will welcome the fact that a lot of legislation is to be dealt with in the two weeks that I have just announced, with three days of it in the second week. On debating the economy, I just remind her that we had no debate on the pre-Budget report in one year when her Government were in office and had sole control of the timetable. Indeed, we went for months without any debate on the economy under a Labour Government. On the Business Secretary, he is well aware of the ministerial code, which of course he will observe; all important announcements of policy will be made, in the first instance, to the House of Commons.

I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House raises the matter of bank bonuses, because the Labour party did absolutely nothing about them when it was in government. We have already had the Merlin agreement last year, which capped cash bonuses at £2,000, and she must await further announcements about what we plan to do about executive pay.

On what the shadow Leader of the House said about Somalia, my view is that this country led the way in the support that we extended to Somalia and that if other countries had responded as proactively as we did, the harm might have been reduced. However, I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development the point that she made about learning any lessons.

The coalition agreement contained a clear commitment to establish a commission to look at the West Lothian question. That question was one of the many unanswered constitutional issues we inherited from the outgoing Government. On metal theft, the hon. Lady must await the views of the Government, which will be set out in response to the debate tomorrow on a private Member’s Bill.

On airports, the coalition parties are united in rejecting a third runway at Heathrow—the Labour party backed that runway in government but they have now joined us in opposing it in opposition. No decisions have been taken on the estuary airport. As the Chancellor made clear in his autumn statement,

“we will explore all the options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 806.]

We will consult on an overarching sustainable framework for UK aviation this spring and publish a call for evidence on maintaining effective UK hub airport connectivity.

On relationships within the coalition, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I are at one; we are as brothers in our approach to the issues for which we have responsibility, and not a cigarette paper could be found between us on any issue.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): On Saturday, I was pleased to welcome the current and former chairman of the all-party angling group to my constituency where

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we waded—or rather, walked, because we did not have to wade—down the dry river bed of the River Kennet, which is a world famous chalk river. Could we have a debate on the water White Paper, which sets out proposals for changing abstraction regimes, as we as MPs would like to know more about the detail?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for the point she makes and for her interest in angling. I cannot promise a debate on the White Paper in the very near future, but she might like to apply for a Backbench Business Committee or Westminster Hall debate on what is one of the most popular recreational activities in the country.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Government have made an announcement on High Speed 2. They are also hinting at having a new airport in the Thames estuary, which the Leader of the House has already mentioned. What local people in Telford want is improved rail services connecting to Birmingham so that they can connect to High Speed 2. May we have a debate in the House on local rail services?

Sir George Young: I announced a few minutes ago that there would be a debate on Network Rail, which I very much hope will provide an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his legitimate constituency interests. We will set out the infrastructure investment that we are putting into the railway system, including new carriages, investment in new lines and increases in capacity, which I hope he will welcome.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Royal Bank of Scotland was bailed out with billions of pounds of public money, saving thousands of RBS jobs, presumably including those of the people who currently run it. However, RBS is pushing Peacocks department stores, which account for 700 shops and 10,000 jobs, towards administration. Is it not the role of the Government to intervene, when they own the bank, and can we have a debate on that?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the future of Peacocks, but I would be cautious about the Government intervening and trying to micro-manage lending decisions, which are best taken by the banks. There will be an opportunity to raise the issue of bank bonuses on Monday, but I shall draw his concerns about the future of Peacocks to the attention of the Business Secretary to see whether there is any action we can take to minimise the pain.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I declare my interest and remind the Leader of the House that 80% of amputations due to diabetes could be prevented and that 24,000 people with diabetes died last year because they could not manage their condition properly? May we have an urgent statement from the Government about what their diabetes strategy will be in the new health reforms?

Sir George Young: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this important issue to the House’s attention. We do have a strategy for trying to reduce the harm that

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is done by diabetes. I think it would be an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall, where we could set out our strategy in more detail, but he is right—there is a growing incidence of diabetes and there is an imperative to take action to try to minimise the harm it does.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): May we have an early debate on who speaks for England and who should make decisions for England in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom?

Sir George Young: I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. We announced on Tuesday the establishment of the West Lothian commission, which will look at a range of options. For example, with issues that affect only England and Wales, one option would be that only English and Welsh MPs voted on such matters. In my view, that would be an appropriate rebalancing of the constitution to take account of the fact that in Scotland they have their own Parliament in which issues are resolved on which English MPs cannot vote. It seems somewhat perverse that Scottish MPs can vote on those very same issues when they apply only to England.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): May I welcome the Government’s announcement that during these difficult economic times no taxpayers’ money will be used to fund any building of the royal yacht? May I also ask the Leader of the House to assure hon. Members that that will include publicly owned bodies such as the banks, either directly or indirectly?

Sir George Young: The Government have made their position clear. We think the offer is generous but we have made it absolutely clear that no taxpayer money can be involved. I cannot add to what has already been said.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the conduct of a Mr Scott Venning and his company City Watch parking, a seemingly criminal organisation with shaven-headed enforcers who lift people’s cars and then extort money to return them?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend uses robust language. I know, because he has raised the subject before—it is a matter of deep concern—that he knows that the Protection of Freedoms Bill is currently in another place, and that when the Bill hits the statute book, hopefully in May, it will be an offence to clamp on private land and incidents of the sort that my hon. Friend has mentioned will simply be outlawed. In the meantime, I can only suggest that he uses his eloquence to try to get redress for his constituent from the offending company.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) has not got anything against people with shaven heads, or who happen to have less hair than other people have, but we will leave it there.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Following on from the comments by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), I am happy to report that there is an addition to the big society, and that is the Hannah Mitchell Foundation for the devolution of the north of England. Given the Government’s austerity programme,

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which is attacking people in the north of England, and the effect that is having, we are seeing a north-south divide, and it is becoming a major issue. Will there be a debate in Government time on the devolution of England, and the opportunity for northern England to seek the same position that Scotland and Wales have?

Sir George Young: I remind the hon. Gentleman that his Government went there and tried to sell devolution to the north-east. There was a resounding humiliation for that Government in the referendum on that. I detect no appetite at all for the sort of initiative that he mentions.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if ever there are proposals before the House to change the status of marriage, any votes will be on a free vote?

Sir George Young: The issue of the guidance that may be given to my hon. Friends in the event of a vote would be a matter for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, another of my brothers. My hon. Friend is way ahead of the game on this, in that we are about to consult in March on a range of options, including equal civil marriage. At the end of that consultation period there will then be proposals and possibly legislation, and it will be at that point that decisions will need to be taken about the status of any votes on that legislation.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): In the aftermath of last summer’s disturbances, the Prime Minister said that his Government would help affected businesses to get up and running quickly. However, a complex and bureaucratic application process has left nine out of 14 businesses in and around my constituency still waiting and unable to restock effectively. May we have an urgent statement, updating the House on those businesses still waiting for compensation, and what the Government are going to do to help our small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy?

Sir George Young: The hon. Lady is right that the Government made funds available. There was one source of funds, through the police authorities under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, and there was another source of funds, I think through the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will pursue the issue that she raises and unblock any hindrance in funds flowing to her constituents, perhaps retailers, who have been adversely affected, and see whether we can make fast progress. It is our view that they are entitled to compensation; we want them to get it.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Mr Speaker, may I also wish you a happy birthday? It is an easy date for me to remember because it is also my birthday.

Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House recall me raising, in October 2010, the situation in Parliament square, when I described it as

“a no-go area surrounded by a campsite”.—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 256.]?

Will he update the House on progress in clearing Parliament square?

Sir George Young: I commend my hon. Friend for the initiative he has taken over many years to ensure that Parliament square is restored to its dignity. Following

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the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, powers were available to the Metropolitan police to clear the encampment, and the House may have noticed that, earlier this week, the majority of the tents were removed using the provisions in that Act. One encampment remains, which is subject to a High Court injunction, which I think will be addressed in a few weeks’ time.

I very much hope that before too long we can restore Parliament square to its former glory. It is at the centre of the finest capital city in the world, with Westminster abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall, and I very much hope that we can make the space available to people who have been denied that space by the activity over recent years. Finally, I would say that we have also restored the historic right to protest, as long as those protesting go home at the end of the day.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and I wish him a happy birthday too.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): This morning we have seen yet again the contempt that the Secretary of State for Health has for professional people working in the health service, as shown by his comments that opposition to NHS reforms is just about spite regarding the pension agenda. May we have a debate in the House about who really supports NHS reform and who does not? May we also, in that debate, discuss why the Secretary of State has so much contempt for nurses and midwives and other professionals in this country?

Sir George Young: That is a travesty of the views of my right hon. Friend, who has on many occasions paid tribute to the work that nurses and doctors do within the NHS.

On the issue of pensions, our view is that a generous offer has been made to doctors and consultants. The average consultant retiring at the age of 60 will get a pension of £48,000 and a lump sum of £143,000, worth about £1.7 million in a pot. We think that is unsustainable, and we want a system that links pensions to lifetime earnings rather than final salary—a reform that I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome.

On the issue of NHS reform, the hon. Gentleman knows that there will be an opportunity for a further debate when the other place has finished its consideration of the Health and Social Care Bill. We believe that that reform is essential and that it is in doctors’ and nurses’ interests, because they are put at the centre of clinical commissioning.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that there will be a summit on European matters towards the end of the month—probably 30 January; my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) raised the matter last week. The European Scrutiny Committee has unanimously called on the Government to provide for a debate before that summit, on the Floor of the House, for a minimum of three hours. The last time I asked this question, I was told it should go off to Westminster Hall or should be dealt with by a Backbench Business Committee resolution. That is quite inappropriate; this is a serious matter,

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affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. It needs to have a general debate on the Floor of the House. Can we please have one?

Sir George Young: I do not agree with my hon. Friend that it is inappropriate to ask him to go to the Backbench Business Committee and ask for time in this Chamber for a debate on the European Council. That is precisely the recommendation that was made by the Wright Committee at paragraph 145. It explicitly says that the two days for the pre-European Council debates should be handed over to the Backbench Business Committee and it should find the time for them. My hon. Friend will have heard that the Government have made time available to the Backbench Business Committee. I am not sure whether he approached the Committee with a subject for the debate in the weeks that are forthcoming, but that is the appropriate way to get debates on the European Council, as outlined by the Wright Committee, whose recommendations we have implemented.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): May we have a debate on how local residents can be protected from bad-neighbour businesses, such as European Metal Recycling in my constituency, whose latest trick, flouting planning law, is to build a wall behind people’s homes of shipping containers three high, which it is welding together to make a permanent structure? That is the latest thing that it has done. May we have a debate about bad-neighbour businesses?

Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear of the problems faced by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. It is not clear whether the wall that the company has built had planning permission.

Robert Flello: It did not.

Sir George Young: If it has not, enforcement action is available: the local authority may ask that it be removed, and if it is not, remove it and then charge the business. I hope the hon. Gentleman will follow that initiative.

We have passed through the House the Localism Act 2011, which gives more powers to local communities to influence the environment in which they live. I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome the increased planning powers available to local government.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): In Great Yarmouth, we have seen a vast increase in the number of apprenticeships in the past 12 to 18 months. That has been a great asset in trying to match the skills available with the demands of industry in the area. May we have a debate to highlight the importance not just of apprenticeships but of vocational training in developing skill sets required by industry?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I hope he may catch Mr Speaker’s eye on Monday, when there will be an opportunity to debate the subject. In our first year we delivered more than double the number of extra apprenticeships we promised, and the Chancellor announced in May our ambition for 50,000 extra post-19 apprenticeships, funded from in-year spending

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cuts in other areas. We are keen to develop the apprentice agenda, and I welcome what my hon. Friend said about his constituency.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I wish you a happy birthday, Mr Speaker—and my colleague on the Health Committee, the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick). You share this day with the first anniversary of the introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill—a day that will obviously live in infamy. We need an urgent debate on what is going on on the ground, because we now have credit agencies involved in the health service, 2,000 job losses—according to the Royal College of Nursing—and the Information Commissioner not being able to release the appeal from the Government into the risk assessment. We need the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to answer questions as to why he is usurping the will of Parliament and putting through these reforms before the Act has been passed.

Sir George Young: I will bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the request that the hon. Lady has made about information—I think that was the gist of her question—and of course I will pass that response on to her. The Bill has passed through the House and, as she knows, once a Bill gets a Second Reading certain actions are allowed to proceed. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has done nothing that is in any way inappropriate. As I said, there will be an opportunity to debate the Bill when it returns to the House, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May we have a debate on child abduction? International rates of child abduction are up 10% this year. Is the Leader of the House aware of the anomaly in the law whereby the abduction of a child to a foreign country is a criminal matter, but if a parent initially gives permission for the child to go on holiday but the child never returns it is a civil matter with little protection? May we address this loophole?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right that the number of abduction cases is growing. If a child is abducted to a country that has not signed up to The Hague convention, there are real difficulties getting them back. I will draw the possible loophole to the attention of the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to see whether action can be taken to close it.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): Many of my constituents work in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office in Cumbernauld, the largest in the country, and are worried about what they perceive to be the creeping privatisation of HMRC through the introduction of private providers in its call centres. May we have a debate on whether bringing private providers into the call centres is sensible?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the previous Government used private agencies in public sector organisations where that was the right way to proceed, and I am sure that he would support measures to reduce costs within HMRC and make it more efficient. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and his team will

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be here on 24 January for Treasury questions, when the hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity to ask his question again.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), I asked the same question last week and the Leader of the House replied in his best insouciant manner, but I am afraid that that is not good enough. Today we will have a debate on the connecting Europe facility, which is one part of the matter, but he is denying Members the opportunity to discuss these issues, as other countries do, on the Floor of the House before the Prime Minister goes to the European summit. It is not good enough for the Leader of the House to tell us to go to the Backbench Business Committee. I have been to the Committee, but it has no time and will not give us the debate—it is down to him. This is a major issue, and the House is not overstretched. Imagine if someone had asked for a debate on German rearmament in 1930s and the then Leader of the House had said, “Oh, just go off to Westminster Hall or the Backbench Business Committee.” It is ridiculous. These are important matters that should be in a central debate.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that there are regular debates on Europe in the Chamber—there is one today and I have announced another for next week. If I may say so, he glosses over the whole thrust of the Wright Committee’s recommendations, which was that the Government should provide time for Government legislation and no longer control exclusively the diet of the House. The time we used to have for the debate he refers to has been handed over to the Backbench Business Committee. That empowers the House by giving it a power that has been taken from the Government. It is for the Committee to decide whether to give priority to my hon. Friend’s request or to those of other Members. I am not sure whether he has been to the Committee recently to make his request, but ultimately it must decide whether to accede to it.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), told a Committee of this House earlier today that Birmingham city council is cash-rich and the Conservative/Lib Dem administration running the city is sitting on millions of pounds. The administration says that the budget is dire, which is why it has been forced to make such savage cuts in services. They cannot both be right. May we have an urgent statement so that we can uncover the truth about the council’s financial circumstances?

Sir George Young: I am reluctant to get involved in a west midlands turf war between my hon. Friend the Minister and the local authority. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise the matter again during Communities and Local Government questions. In the meantime, I will ask the Minister whether he would like to respond.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have a debate on nursing care in the NHS, a subject recently raised by the Prime Minister? Most nurses do an excellent job, but sadly some patients have distressing

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experiences. Does the Leader of the House agree that, rather than focusing on structures, we need to concentrate on high standards of care closely supervised by ward sisters?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend might know that the Prime Minister recently made a speech in which he outlined the steps the Government are taking to remove red tape and bureaucracy so that nurses can devote more time to patient care. My hon. Friend’s suggestion is very much in line with the Government’s policy of enabling nurses to use their skills to drive up the quality of care in our hospitals.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): On Tuesday the Secretary of State for Defence announced that 4,100 servicemen and women will be made redundant. Why was an oral statement not made to the House so that we could question him on the implications of the decision? Will the Leader of the House ask him to publish before next week’s debate a statement on the implications for Yorkshire regiments, such as the Green Howards, and others in the Army’s key recruiting grounds in Yorkshire and the north-east of England?

Sir George Young: I believe that the announcement was made in an appropriate way in a written ministerial statement, a procedure for which I think we can find precedents. I will ensure that by the time we have the defence debate that I announced a few moments ago Defence Ministers will have the detailed information the hon. Gentleman has asked for and, if possible, will let him have it before the debate.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I agree with my right hon. Friend that our country’s reaction to the drought in Somalia was impressive, but it was the worst drought for six decades, thousands of people have been displaced, millions have been left starving and the threat to international trade and security in the region is ever-increasing. May we have a debate on Somalia on the Floor of the House?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Despite the best efforts of the African Union, the United Nations and international diplomacy, Somalia continued to slide backwards. He might know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has convened an international conference on 23 February, to which he has invited representatives of 40 countries and international organisations, in order to identify measures that will restore Somalia to health and help address some of the problems my hon. Friend mentions, such as poverty, the threat to international trade and the threat from international terrorists now based in that country. I have noted his request for a debate.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will next week’s defence debate concentrate on the paramount need to reduce tension between the west and Iran in order to avoid this country stumbling into another avoidable war, and may we explain to those responsible that murdering Iranian scientists can have only one outcome: making war more likely?

Sir George Young: I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman couched his remarks in a suitable way they would be perfectly in order in next Thursday’s debate. I have

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noted his views. There is a real threat to the rest of the world from Iran possessing nuclear weapons, and I think that it is right that a range of responses is available.

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Given the concern expressed in the House about the protection and welfare of children, may we have an urgent statement from the Government on the preposterous actions of the Turkish authorities, who have issued an international arrest warrant for Sarah, Duchess of York, for daring to make a television documentary about looked-after children in that country?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. It is not the Government’s usual policy to comment on individual cases, but the Home Office confirms that it has received from Turkey a formal request for mutual legal assistance concerning Sarah, Duchess of York. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Public Accounts Committee learned yesterday that the NHS strategy for people with long-term conditions was ineffective for those with neurological conditions and not good value for money. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that before the Health and Social Care Bill, which will make that pattern the usual one for particular conditions, returns to the House we learn whether that issue is one of the things on the risk register that the Government are seeking to block?

Sir George Young: I will raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. She will know that we plan to publish a White Paper on long-term care in the spring, which I hope will drive up the quality of care. I will pass her request for data on to my right hon. Friend.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): Last week I paid a visit to the Leek campus of PM Training, a vocational training organisation providing skills and vocational training for the young people furthest from the workplace. One of the keys to its success is its zero-tolerance policy on attendance, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how the Government and others can take action to encourage attendance at school and prevent truancy in order to give all our young people the best start in life?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises the important issue of truancy in schools. We have reduced the threshold at which a pupil is defined as persistently absent from 20% of time missed to 15%, ensuring that schools act earlier to deal with absence; and we are looking at the range of sanctions that can be placed on parents of truanting children, with a view to introducing higher fines and a more consistent application of sanctions. I hope that goes in the direction that my hon. Friend has indicated.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I have always thought that the Leader of the House is the most reasonable of the brothers on the Government Front Bench. Does he agree with me, my right hon. Friend the

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Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and several Members on both sides of the House that existing firearms legislation, which is scattered among 34 Acts of Parliament, needs codifying, and that, in view of the terrible events in my constituency on new year’s day, it would be timely to have a debate on the merits of such a course of action?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and understand his constituency concern. The Home Affairs Committee recently produced a report on the issue, but it did not recommend a reduction in the age at which people can hold a shotgun licence. There were other recommendations in the report, however, and I will ensure that the Government not only respond to it, if they have not already done so, but deal with the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises about codifying existing legislation on shotguns and trying to achieve a more rational approach.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): The issue of feed-in tariffs is ongoing at the Court of Appeal, and we are still not sure when it is going to lay down a judgment. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask the relevant Minister to table regulations so that the 40-day period can start and solar companies can have some clarity for the future?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have appealed against the initial decision, and we await the outcome. Without the action that we took, the money that is available would simply have been soaked up within a few months, and the entire £800 million budget would have been exhausted. I will pass on to the relevant Minister the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about early action now, in advance of the appeal decision, but I am not sure whether that is a practical option.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and penblwydd hapus i chi.

May we have a debate on the nonsense issue of copyright law and university examination papers? Universities are unable to share past examination papers either in digital form or in photocopied classroom handouts because of third-party information in the questions. That is a nonsense, as universities are liable to prosecution if they do so, and it prevents students from preparing for exams. I am aware that the Conservative party had a manifesto pledge to deal with the issue.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is a long time since I had anything to do with university examination papers, but I will of course raise with my right hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the important copyright issue she raises to see whether there is a way through the dilemma she outlines, whereby it is apparently illegal to share past papers, which might be in the interests of students.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): In Tamworth the governors of Greenacres primary school hope to integrate with the local Landau Forte academy so that both schools can work better together to identify the most disadvantaged youngsters and help them before

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they reach secondary school. Such vertical integration between schools is highly innovative, so I hope that the Leader of the House will grant time for a debate about it and other similar innovations in education.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point about the advantage of vertical integration between primary and secondary schools. It would be an important issue for a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, and I understand that so far 29 “all through” sponsored academies have opened, with the latest doing so this month. There is a need to promote the seamless transition from one school to another, and the process that he outlines assists that and is greatly to be welcomed.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): In these straitened economic times, I have had to intervene on several occasions on behalf of local businesses, which for non-payment or late payment of taxes have been threatened by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with a range of sanctions up to and including closure. May we expect an early debate, attended I hope by both Business and Treasury Ministers, so that the House can remind them that sometimes a more softly, softly and common-sense approach is more effective and, certainly, more appropriate than one of bullying?

Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear that some of the businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency face such action. From my own experience, I know that quite often an intervention from a local Member of Parliament can secure a modified approach, and it is the Government’s view—we have set it out at some length—that, given the problems facing many businesses, HMRC should exercise restraint where appropriate. I shall pass on his concerns to my hon. Friends at the Treasury, and he might like to raise the issue at Treasury questions on Tuesday.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I, too, take this opportunity to wish you a happy birthday?

May we have a wide-ranging debate on Britain’s contribution to the IMF? Would the Leader of the House like to put it on the record that, if any new contribution is sought from the United Kingdom, there will be a vote in this House before it is provided?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to that important matter, and the position is as I set out a few moments ago: the Government have authority to increase their subscriptions to the IMF up to a certain level, and if any new bid from the IMF requires a contribution that takes us over that level it will of course be a matter for Parliament to debate and approve.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I confess that I rather like the right hon. Gentleman and his approach to business questions, but he really must answer the point that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) made earlier. The feed-in tariff consultation was ruled illegal; the Government have appealed against the judgment, at a cost of £58,000; and as yet there is no outcome. But in my constituency, businesses that

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manufacture and install solar panels are suffering confusion because of that shambles, so may we have an early statement on the matter?

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity next Thursday to cross-question Ministers, but the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal would go against the action that the Government have taken to appeal against the decision. He is in effect inviting us to admit, by taking the action that we do not want to take, that we have lost the appeal—[ Interruption. ] And I see from his body language that I have correctly identified the problem for the Government. We must simply await the outcome of the appeal.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): This week the Foreign Secretary revealed that there is a secret bunker from which the Government will be run in the event of some catastrophic and destabilising incident. Unfortunately, we do not know who would be in the bunker or who would be in charge. I should hope that the Leader of the House would make it, and for that matter his brother, the Deputy Leader of the House, but may we have next week a written statement listing all the people who would be in the bunker?

Sir George Young: No. But I was sorry to read in Hansard that among those specifically excluded from the bunker was Mrs Bone.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Leader of the House say a little more on whether the Government will support the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill, which is on the Order Paper for tomorrow in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones)? I also heard the comments of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), and a great many Members want something done about the issue. Would not supporting the Bill allow action to be taken before the Queen’s Speech and the Olympics? We really do need something doing rather quickly.

Sir George Young: The Government are concerned about metal theft and the damage it is doing to churches, monuments and other buildings throughout the country, and there is a working party within government looking at a range of options, such as banning cash payments and better licensing. The Government will outline their views on the Bill when we reach it tomorrow, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the issue seriously, we are looking at a package of measures and we want to make progress.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): May we have a debate on the way in which income tax policy affects families? The CARE report on the taxation of families highlighted the fact that single-earner families in the United Kingdom pay a disproportionate amount of their income in tax. In view of the hint by the Prime Minister that the decision on child benefit will be revisited, is now not the time to have a debate on a tax system that is equitable for all families in this country?

Sir George Young: I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend expresses. The Government have made it clear that as we reduce the deficit it is appropriate for

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those on higher incomes to make a contribution. Against that background, we announced that households with one or more higher rate taxpayer would forgo child benefit from next year. That remains our policy. We are looking at how it will be implemented and hope to make further announcements in due course.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May we have a statement later today from the Prime Minister on responsible capitalism? Peacocks, which is based in Cardiff, has gone into administration, as we heard earlier. RBS pulled the plug on the finance for the company, yet we hear that its chief executive, Stephen Hester, is to get a £1.5 million bonus. When will the Prime Minister actually do something about this, rather than giving the impression that he is busy doing nothing and working the whole day through to find lots of things not to do?

Sir George Young: It is not the case that the Government have done nothing about bankers’ bonuses. A moment ago, I outlined the action that was taken through Merlin to cap cash payments at £2,000 and to get bonuses on a downward trajectory. The hon. Gentleman will know that we finished consulting on executive pay in November. We hope to make an announcement very soon. His Government totally failed to take such action over 13 years.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Huddersfield Town fans, and I declare an interest as a season ticket holder, are campaigning for the return of the club’s original 40% share in its home ground, the Galpharm stadium. I hope that an amicable agreement can be reached between the chairman of Huddersfield Town football club and the chairman of the Huddersfield Giants rugby league club. May we have a debate on football governance that focuses not only on club ownership but on the ownership of football grounds and stadiums?

Sir George Young: I, too, hope that there is an amicable resolution. An unamicable resolution between those two formidable people would be a sight to behold. There has been a Select Committee report on football governance. I hope that in due course the Liaison Committee will propose it for debate. That might be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise his concerns. In the meantime, I will see whether there is anything that Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can do to resolve the local tussle to which he refers.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Secretary of State for Health has now united doctors, nurses and midwives against the disastrous Health and Social Care Bill. In view of his comments this morning, will he be coming to the House to provide evidence for his claim that that is more about pensions than concerns over the Health and Social Care Bill? My constituents who work in the health service are concerned about the disastrous effect that the Bill will have on health and social care in this country, not about pensions.

Sir George Young: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has consistently made clear his views about the valuable work that is done by nurses, doctors, midwives and others in the NHS. We are

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disappointed at the response to our proposals on pensions, which are based on the Hutton report. My right hon. Friend addressed the House on health at some length on Monday. Of course, he will also be available for Health questions. I reject the assertion, which we have heard on several occasions, that he does not value the work done by workers in the NHS—of course he does.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): There is considerable concern not just in Greater London but beyond about Thames Water’s proposal to create a Thames tunnel for a super-sewer in the near future. Will the Leader of the House look into how soon we can debate the Government’s policy statement on waste water, which is awaited? Will he confirm that this House will have a debate and a vote on that policy statement and on the power to transfer the decision on planning to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?

Sir George Young: My right hon. Friend raises an issue that is important not only to Londoners but to others who would benefit from the proposal. It would be an important infrastructure investment and I agree that it should be subjected to appropriate debate in the House. If he will leave it with me, I will see what would be the most appropriate forum for that debate. If certain issues were raised, there would have to be a debate under the Localism Act 2011. He should leave it to me to find an appropriate avenue for that debate.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Many of my constituents are keen to see justice, self-determination, peace and prosperity for people in Kashmir. May we have a debate on that issue, because it would enable the relevant Minister to update the House on the Government’s work to encourage talks between Pakistan and India and to encourage economic development and better education and health care systems? Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be a good idea for a Foreign Office Minister to come to constituencies such as mine, where there are constituents who have a great deal of knowledge and expertise on how Britain could help in this area?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for extending a generous invitation to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which I will of course pass on. There was an opportunity on Tuesday, when we had Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter. I will pass on his concerns to the Foreign Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Teachers’ ability to instil discipline in schools plays an important part in driving up educational standards. May we have a debate on this issue to ensure that teachers have the necessary powers and clarity on policy to reintroduce discipline?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right: teachers need to be able to enforce discipline in their classes. We have issued new, simpler guidance for teachers on discipline, cutting the length from 600 pages to 50. The new guidance states that no-touch policies are unnecessary, that teachers can use reasonable force to control or

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physically restrain disruptive pupils, and that heads can search for items such as alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen property. I hope that that is a move in a direction that my hon. Friend can support.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Further to the exchanges that the Leader of the House had with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), may I join the calls for a debate on Somalia? There is a humanitarian crisis in that country, its political instability is well known and the conference that the Prime Minister is convening in February is potentially an important moment. It would be beneficial to have a debate ahead of that conference. I join the calls of other hon. Members for the Leader of the House to consider that request and I hope that he looks upon it kindly.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he couched that bid for a debate. I agree that it is an important issue. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I would like to reflect on the case that hon. Members have made for a debate on Somalia.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Last year, under the European health insurance card scheme, the UK paid £1.7 billion to other European economic area nations for the treatment of Britons abroad but recovered only £125 million from EEA countries from the treatment of their citizens in this country. May we have a debate on the efficiency of NHS trusts in auditing, and therefore in recovering, such costs?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about that imbalance in trade. My understanding is that it is due to the fact that more UK pensioners retire to other EU countries than residents of EU countries retire here. Under EU rules, we have to pay for the health treatment of those who retire to EU countries. The imbalance that he refers to is not a result of health tourism or the abuse of the NHS, although we are of course against those things, but due to the fact that more of our citizens retire to the EU than EU citizens retire here.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Next month, I will attend the official launch of the Ormiston academy in Cradley Heath in Sandwell, which is the latest school to become an academy in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on giving schools that are currently in LEA control similar powers to academies, so that we can drive up teaching standards and attainment in areas where LEAs are underperforming, such as Sandwell?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that we now have more than 1,300 new academies. The number of academies has risen sevenfold since we came to power. All the evidence is that schools that convert to academies do better than those that do not. On the issue of extending to local authority schools the powers that academies have, which was the thrust of his question, my initial response is to ask why such schools do not go for academy status and get the benefits in that way. I will, of course, pass on to my ministerial colleagues the suggestion that he has made.